Earth Notes: Charles Lindbergh, Oblique Views Of Archeology

Feb 12, 2020

In 1929 Charles Lindberg was already famous for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic. But his next adventure was nearly lost to history. It was an aerial survey of the Colorado Plateau.  

An aerial photo of the Colorado Plateau taken by Charles Lindbergh, circa 1929
Credit Google Images

Few archeological surveys had been made of the Southwest at that time—and none from the air. Hired by the Carnegie Institution, Charles Lindberg took the photographs while his new wife, Ann, flew the tiny plane. They circled Meteor Crater, dipped low over the Grand Canyon, and captured images of both ancient and modern towns such as Canyon de Chelly, Chaco Canyon, and Santa Fe.

But many of those black-and-white images disappeared or deteriorated with time. In 2007, the nonprofit Archeology Southwest made scans of the remaining 198 negatives. The project inspired the group to repeat Lindbergh’s flight, taking new photographs at the same time of year and time of day. A pilot named Adriel Heisey took on the challenge. He operated his plane’s controls with his feet while leaning out of the open cockpit to take pictures.

Side-by-side, the images reveal both subtle and profound changes. Some are natural: the effect of wind, water, and time. Others are linked to human decisions. Meandering rivers cut deeper into their channels. Dirt roads became asphalt highways. A dramatic pair of images show a slab of stone looming over Pueblo Bonito called “Threatening Rock.” Inhabitants of Chaco Canyon stabilized the rock with pine poles and terraces. It fell in 1941, destroying many of the pueblo’s rooms.

The repeat photography project reveals how landscapes and cultures change over time. It’s now a traveling exhibit called “Oblique Views.”

This Earth Note was written by Melissa Sevigny and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.